Above freezing point - at last

Finally we have a reading of a temperature above freezing. Just enough to start the thaw. And with it comes that gushing sound, vaguely familiar, then you suddenly remember what it is, yes the rushing of a water through a burst pipe.


Christmas celebrations

By dint of being snowed in this year Christmas has been wonderfully quiet and reclusive. The first day of serious snow we dashed into Ludlow for provisions to see us through the severe weather. The great advantage of the extreme cold is that my fridge space has increased exponentially - I now have a "lobby" fridge, 2m x 3m at 1 degree C, a "conservatory" fridge 2m x 4m at -5 degrees C, not to mention icy bathrooms and window ledges.
So having for the first time in my life planned ahead the larders were stocked good things.

We decided that this year as the temperature varies between minus 15 and minus 6 we would have a Christmas barbeque, but in the living room. I marinaded boned rolled shoulder of lamb and we heated the griddle in our woodburning stove to searing point, put on the meat, bunged it in the hot embers and shut the door. It was great fun, like being a boy scout. It was that free adventurous cooking that you could only contemplate as a child when "Mum was out". It felt just like that. The lamb was beautifully juicy, and tender. Pink in the middle and I made a yoghurt dip to go with it with toasted, infused spices, lots of fresh chilli and mint which is somehow holding out in my conservatory.

I can thoroughly recommend it and all the better for not being a traditional Christmas.

Actually we couldn't see this but what a stunning image

Different phases during the lunar eclipse that happened in December 2010. captured from Telus world of science observatory in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.Submitted by: Mohamed Ali


2010 going out with a bang not a whimper

Here we are again, approaching the end of the year, and doing a mental summing up of thoughts and experiences over the last 12 months.
As some of you know it has been an "interesting" year for the challenges here on Planet Walcot. I think 2010 can be called "Stress Year". And being swamped by these things has been a regular experience. Some very personal, taking care of my mum as she has developed memory difficulties in her 80s, which has been pretty traumatic for both of us. Then our English manufacturing has been through a major and painful upheaval, not to mention other hiccups, which at the time I thought were unsurmountable, they all happened together this year in spadefuls.
But then after all the sleepless nights and angst and that awful sick, sick feeling in the pit of your stomach that takes you over, its sometimes possible to reach an equalibrilum and learn from the most unexpected quarters. I can't go back and undo regrets - I've just got to move on and somehow progress beyond the bad things.
But best of all has been the amazing love and support of family and friends, allowing me to put the darkest moments to oneside.
There's more I want to write but I'll have to wait a bit. The next black cloud is looming, but now I know I'll get through it. More than anything I feel disappointment in people's personal weakness. How interesting they get off on being so mean and feeble. What a shame they revert to such weedly methods to boost their own small stature. I'm waiting for my "Baron Von Espie" moment - it will come.
Then as an antidote to their bitterness come some unexpected glimpses of something that lifts your spirits.


Afternoon treat

At the weekend I managed to walk through snow to village shop for provisions. Its a tiny place with an interesting mix of foods on offer. As you'd expect a good showing in the baked bean and Shipham's department, but also a very passable selection of wine, well chosen and not too pricey. I also came upon a bag of local walnuts from Mildred's garden down the road. They are smaller than the average Californian, but particularly sweet and nutty. Andrew has been working on a good shelling technique with a split log on the edge of the hearth. The knack is in the correct application of pressure - I have some way to go yet! Anyway my contribution was making some walnut bread as shown.
85g walnuts (in rough pieces)
250g Doves Farm wholemeal flour
150g white Plain flour not strong - otherwise it comes out too poofy and light.
3/4tsp salt
just a little less than 1/2tsp dried yeast
320g water
1 tsp sugar.
Put all above ingred.s in bread maker (adding the walnuts at pinging sound so they don't get smashed to smithereens).
Delicious with stilton, but my favourite is with unsalted butter and honey eaten in front of the fire.


How long will it stay?

We're pretty much snowed in now. Being on a northerly hill our weather has its own particular qualities. In the depths of winter, Planet Walcot resembles Narnia stuck in permafrost. Suddenly one's outlook and perceptions are altered to very simple needs. How to keep warm and making sure there's enough to eat, it appeals to how I view my world anyway.

Out for my run this morning about 7.30 it was still darkish, but I reckoned I could beat the next snowfall. It is magical at those moments, no one around, even, white layer all around and stark black trees. I must have disturbed a hare as it tore past me and disappeared into the surrounding woodland.


Minus 11 and still November

Temperatures plummeted last week and by Saturday night it went down to -11. Out walking on Sunday it reached a heady minus 8. I'm sure it was only about 7 months ago I was describing similar conditions. Still its fantastic for striding out in, stout pair of Brashers crunching over frozen ground, then back to the warmth. Have done some timely renovations to our woodburner so now we can face the winter undaunted.


Not yet 4 o'clock

Its before 4 p.m. and the light is fading. A stormy, wet week has stripped the last leaves and the scene outside is of black tree trunks and mud. This time last year we were just back from Hong Kong, (what an amazing city) where temperatures were in the low 30s (C). Local weather can be so all encompassing that it is too easy to forget that even just down the road the climate is different.


Quince Heaven

Our friends Caro and Howie sent us home the other night with the most wonderful Vranja quinces. They were so fragrant that as I lay in bed that night I could smell their beautiful perfume permeating the house.

And this is what I did...

Stuffed Quinces (Dolmeh-e Beh)
4 large quinces
1 onion, finely chopped
chopped cooked flat rib of beef
2 Tbsp. oil
1 tbsp. tomato paste
vinegar or lemon juice
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. Butter,

Wash quinces, removing fluffy layer, halve and hollow out as best you can (difficult I thought) saving any useful flesh (not pip)
Brown onion , add meat in 2 Tbsp. oil. Add tomato paste, 2 Tbsp. vinegar or lemon juice, remaining quince flesh, salt, pepper, and 1tsp cinnamon. Mix thoroughly. Stuff as much as you can into quinces. Place into an oven proof dish, pour around some good, flavoursome homemade stock. Cover with foil and bake 40 mins at 190 C.
Then mix a little lemon or vinegar, sugar and butter and pour over quinces and return to oven,briefly.

Serve with bread, yogurt, and fresh herbs.
Jane Grigson and Maideh Mazda had a good hand in this, not to mention centuries of Persians.


Dear Marjorie

What a wonderful plum the Marjorie Seedling is. Our relatively new tree produced a wonderful crop this year, here are the last ones we gathered. The flesh is luscious, and juicy and a perfect balance of sweet and acid


Mummy, Daddy and Baby

Look at these little cuties I found on my run this morning. Sadly the big one was a bit eaten, but still lots to make a wonderfully intense Cep soup


Memories of Summer

Just a few brave flowers from summer remain. The odd brilliant cosmos nodding in the breeze, and Japanese anemones catch the low sunshine. But here is a little reminder of a wonderful summer's evening in Baja Hungary. Every year the town holds a Fish Soup competition, the emphasis more on friends and family getting together to cook and eat outside in a party atmosphere than achieving culinary honours. The result is over 2000 log fires and bubbling pots of fish soup all cooking at once in the town's very picturesque square. Next year our friend Vince is planning to cook - we intend to hold him to his word!


Back on the horse...

Life for the past 6 months in edited chunks.
How would I sum it up simply?
Work - some good, some not so good, never predictable,
Family - sad, my Mum has had a lot of struggles,
Weather - v. mixed
Garden - fruitful, but with gaps

Results - I will try to learn to value the little things that can be as satisfying as the bigger picture-

Here are some of those small moments which make me smile;

John Crowe lent me his 1953 tractor (Fergie). I took it for a spin around the yard.

A small tip - I don't recommend driving one in flip-flops, it made it changing gear very tricky.

Weekend Breakfasts

They replenish the tissues like nothing else.

Ambitions - very important for motivation, this is mine.


With some trepidation I write another entry. Last one was in April. The intervening time has been difficult to say the least and rather than bore readers with sad tidings I thought I would wait for better times.


Real weekend

We're having a "real" weekend. Relaxing time off doing nice things. Yesterday we went to visit to Hay on Wye. Then went for a potter round the surrounding villages. We found an ancient church with wonderful 13C bell tower at Kinnesley (you can find it on Google Street view). Inside there was a beautiful early carved altarpiece. Here is a small detail. Then home in time for drinkies and seared lamb chump chops on the griddle. Slight downside was we had to have every window open downstairs in an attempt to get rid of the smoke. Amazingly I had the presence of mind to pack the chilly bin for our trip, so on finding a promising butcher in Hay (I can never resist looking in butcher's shops - probably how some people covetously look in clothes shops) came back with the lamb and a lovely looking piece of rolled sirloin from a Red Ruby Devon.


7th April 10

Today we saw our first swallow. Is it regretting returning to our chilly part of the world? Having wintered in South Africa where all it needed to do was concentrate on eating lots (barbies on the beach?) building up its strength for the journey back to Shrpshire what is it like coming here when there is scarcely a bug to be seen. Also today saw;
First primroses growing in the arboretum.
My all time favourite bird, the Willow tit (after sparrows of course)flitting from branch to branch.

Today is also the birthday of Alison Pitman. She was my first school friend at Overchurch Infant in 1969. Her mother was the first person to take the trouble to point out a swallow's nest in their outhouse. What an interesting circularity life sometimes has.

Having fun with with electricity...

One of my favourite sites Click here



The year is turning. I can't exactly say we have signs of spring yet, with night time temperatures regularly as low as minus 6, and the ground not thawing in the day. But the days are noticeably longer and the sun is high enough sometimes to be able to drink a quick cup of tea outside. For me though the significant point is when I can sort out my first seeds to sow in the conservatory as I did today.
This year's gardening resolution is only grow favourite proven tomatoes. How many times my eye is caught by a good looking newcomer only to be sorely disappointed when they aren't as sweet as Gardeners Delight or as rich and flavoursome as Super Marmande.


Winter plummage

Minus 9.4 on my run this a.m. You can bet I had my winter plummage on. But the good thing about the extremes of temperature is I have won back "goosie". Many moons ago we splashed out on a tip top Hungarian goose down duvet. Big financial investment it was, but sadly too hot and light for my Loved One, so it was banished to the spare room. I loved it, it was like sleeping under a fluffy cloud it was so light. So now goosie is back in our room, just whilst the cold persists. Mmmm...